Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026640, Fri, 20 Nov 2015 09:52:22 -0200

RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] lastochka & other birds in Pale
Fet, Victor to Carolyn's query: No, they are not synonyms. A swift (Russ. strizh, стриж), Apodus, is a highly aerial bird that belongs to family Apodidae (order Apodiformes). They are the fastest fliers among birds (speed over 100 mph recorded) . They are superficially similar to swallows <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swallow> (Hirundinidae), but are not closely related. (Swifts are more closely related to hummingbirds.) [snip]

Jansy Mello: A little after I remembered that Prof. Pnin, in PF, was described as a “regular martinet” and the casual association of the word “martinet” to the bird named “swift,” I also recollected (although too late to add it to the original posting) that there are a few references in the novel “Pnin” that link him to bungled ornithological issues. Pnin’s sense of humor (depreciated or absent in PF) is alluded to when he puns with one of the “twins” (T.Wynns) as a “Bachelor of Hearts”.

The narrator in “Pnin” quotes from a journal that has published some of the squabbles between emigrés and he selects a sentence that confuses two proverbs and also refers to “two birds”, almost suggesting Pnin’s mixing up the “twins” (and the birds?): This had provoked an acid Letter to the Editor from' An Old Optimist', entitled 'Fir Trees and Inertia' and beginning: 'There is an old American saying "He who lives in a glass house should not try to kill two birds with one stone".' In the present issue, there was a two-thousand-word feuilleton contributed by a representative of Faction C and headed 'On Fir Trees, Glass Houses, and Optimism', and Pnin read this with great interest and sympathy.].

Pnin collected postcards with images of mammals and birds to aid him in his contacts with Victor [ He (Victor) therefore experienced pleasure when Professor Pnin entered into a staid and decorous correspondence with him; a first letter, couched in beautiful French but very indifferently typed, was followed by a picture postcard representing the Grey Squirrel. The card belonged to an educational series depicting Our Mammals and Birds; Pnin had acquired the whole series specially for the purpose of this correspondence.]

Here are some of the quotes related to the confusion between Waindell’s ornithologist and anthropologist (to make proper distinctions I’d have to reread the novel, now I’m just pasting a few quotes, to add to the swallow/swift/martinet theme in Pale Fire):

1. “It should not be deemed surprising, therefore, that even Pnin, not a very observant man in everyday life, could not help becoming aware (sometime during his ninth year at Waindell) that a lanky, bespectacled old fellow with scholarly strands of steel-grey hair falling over the right side of his small but corrugated brow, and with a deep furrow descending from each side of his sharp nose to each corner of his long upper-lip — a person whom Pnin knew as Professor Thomas Wynn, Head of the Ornithology Department, having once talked to him at some party about gay golden orioles, melancholy cuckoos, and other Russian countryside birds — was not always Professor Wynn. At times he graded, as it were, into somebody else, whom Pnin did not know by name but whom he classified, with a bright foreigner's fondness for puns as 'Twynn' (or, in Pninian, 'Tvin').”

2. “When the new Fall Term (Pnin's tenth) began, the nuisance was aggravated by the fact that Pnin's class hours had been changed, thus abolishing certain trends on which he had been learning to rely in his efforts to elude Wynn and Wynn's simulator. It seemed he would have to endure it always. For recalling certain other duplications in the past — disconcerting likenesses he alone had seen — bothered Pnin told himself it would be useless to ask anybody's assistance in unravelling the T. Wynns./ On the day of his party, as he was finishing a late lunch in Frieze Hall, Wynn, or his double, neither of whom had ever appeared there before, suddenly sat down beside him and said:

'I have long wanted to ask you something — you teach Russian, don't you? Last summer I was reading a magazine article on birds — '

('Vin! This is Vin!' said Pnin to himself, and forthwith perceived a decisive course of action).

'— well, the author of that article — I don't remember his name, I think it was a Russian one — mentioned that in the Skoff region, I hope I pronounce it right, a local cake is baked in the form of a bird. Basically, of course, the symbol is phallic, but I was wondering if you knew of such a custom?'

It was then that the brilliant idea flashed in Pnin's mind.

'Sir, I am at your service,' he said with a note of exultation quivering in his throat — for he now saw his way to pin down definitely the personality of at least the initial Wynn who liked birds. 'Yes, sir. I know all about those zhavoronki, those alouettes, those — we must consult a dictionary for the English name. So I take the opportunity to extend a cordial invitation to you to visit me this evening. Half past eight, post meridiem. A little house-heating soirée, nothing more. Bring also your spouse — or perhaps you are a Bachelor of Hearts?' “

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